Spreading the word on climate change: how a trip to Iceland opened the eyes of our campaign researcher

Iceland are proud of their achievements in renewable technologies- this is the first poster you see as you land in the airport.

Iceland are proud of their achievements in renewable technologies- this is the first poster you see as you land in the airport.

Before I arrived in Iceland I had a picture in my head of snow covered rooftops and mountains, but on arriving in Reykjavik there was no snow in sight. I wasn’t being stupid though, as our guide told me that I wasn’t wrong to have imagined a snowy Iceland in December, however he explained how Iceland is experiencing the warmest December in 145 years. Usually at this time of year there would be beautiful snow cover but the higher temperatures of 5 or 6 degrees Celsius rather than between -2 and 0 degrees mean that the entire climate of Iceland is changing within the lifetime of those alive now.

Iceland is advanced in terms of renewable technology, taking advantage of the extensive geothermal energy available to them as well as hydroelectric capacity from their natural environment. They use the geothermal technology in creative ways, with the heat from the Earth heating an entire village of greenhouses to provide food, such as tomatoes and strawberries for Iceland. The greenhouses are lit using electricity generated from hydroelectric sources so the whole process is entirely renewable.

Drinking tomato soup made from tomatoes grown in a greenhouse heated by geothermal energy and lit with electricity from hydroelectric power.

Drinking tomato soup made from tomatoes grown in a greenhouse heated by geothermal energy and lit with electricity from hydroelectric power.

But despite being 100% powered by renewable energies, Iceland cannot escape the effects of climate change brought about by global warming. I was lucky enough to hike the Solheimajokull Glacier in southern Iceland. It was the most beautiful place I had ever witnessed especially as the sun set over the nearby volcano. But it was certainly an emotional experience, in finding out that though the glacier moves forward 50m a year, it is receding between 60m and 120m a year, so sometimes it recedes double the amount that it moves forward. A local scientist had set up an experiment on the glacier, freezing 10 metres of wire into the centre of the glacier in May 2016. By the first week of September this wire had come free, meaning the glacier had lost 10m of depth over 4 months. From September until the second week of December the glacier had melted another 3m in depth. On climbing down from the glacier, my guide pointed to the horizon and said that just 20 years ago, when he was a boy, the glacier reached over 1km down the valley. One Kilometre!! If the climate continues to warm, the glaciers in Iceland, which currently account for 11% of Iceland’s land cover, could have completely disappeared in 100 to 200 years. I count myself lucky to have witnessed such a beautiful natural landscape.

Working for Hope for the Future, I have learnt about climate change all over the world, especially the UK. I have been lucky enough to visit many countries and witness the effects of climate change overseas and at home, and I have talked to MPs about how the UK can do more to tackle the effects that are already happening and those that are predicted in the future. But, witnessing something as shocking as the receding rate of the Solheimajokull Glacier first hand is something I will never forget. Hiking the glacier with two American people added to this experience as they came clean at the end of the hike that they were sceptical about climate change before seeing the devastating effects for themselves. 

So I would say, if you have witnessed the effects of climate change, tell people! In the UK, we are beginning to witness the effects for ourselves with warmer winters for example, but not everyone is able to hike a glacier or visit an island state like Fiji or the Caribbean where rising sea levels threaten the land. So it is our job to spread the important message about how climate change threatens populations and nature abroad and at home. When writing to your MP you can tell them of personal experiences and why climate change is such an important personal issue, because building a sustainable future and tackling climate change requires action from each and every one of us. Having one conversation about climate change with a friend or a relative, or even a colleague at work can spark the desire to do some more research into climate change, have more conversations or even begin to take action such as talking to their MP.